Junior Independent Work
Overview of the Junior Paper
The goal of the junior paper (JP) is to acquaint students with focused study in the field of Psychology; develop proficiency in reading and analyzing the professional literature; develop an independent project as preparation for a thesis, and work in close consultation with a faculty member.
Students write two JP papers, one in the fall semester and one in the spring. For each JP, the student must also give a presentation midway through the semester showing their progress.
For both the fall and spring JP, you will have to give a 10-minute presentation midway through the semester to show your progress.
You will be grouped with 4 to 6 other juniors. The group will meet midway through the semester, for 1 to 2 hours. Each student will give a presentation to the group. A faculty member will also be present, to grade the presentations. The midpoint presentation will count for 10% of the final grade for the paper.
To help you prepare, it is important to discuss your presentation with your advisor well ahead of time. You may use slides or other presentation material if you wish, but it is not required. You should summarize your topic, why it is an interesting topic to write about, and how it relates to psychology. You should also summarize whatever progress you have made on reading and synthesizing the literature. If your JP includes an experiment in which you are collecting data, you can present preliminary data. However, keep in mind that the presentation should be strictly within the time limit. Be succinct and organized!
The other students in your group will have background knowledge in psychology like you, but may not have any expertise in your specific topic, so make sure to explain your work a general way such that everyone can follow it. You will get a chance to hear about their work as well, and learn about a range of topics. You will also be able to see the progress that others have made toward their final papers.
The Department of Psychology Undergraduate Administrator will contact you early in each semester to schedule your midpoint presentation. Presentations will take place in the week prior to midterm week (see Important Dates).
Juniors studying abroad for a semester will be exempt from the midpoint presentation for that semester.
Fall Semester Junior Paper
The primary goal of the fall JP in Psychology is for students to practice how to formulate a question and to query the literature. The paper should involve critical analysis and original synthesis, with a topic chosen collaboratively by student and advisor.
The fall JP may take many formats. Different advisors prefer different approaches, and you can discuss the options with your advisor. Make sure you clarify with your advisor exactly what is expected of you.
In one common approach, you will find a topic that overlaps both your interests and your advisor’s expertise. You will research the topic, find the relevant scientific literature, and write a review paper on that literature. However, the literature review must be more than a recounting of what others have done. You should formulate an open question of interest, and use the literature to explore that question.
In a second common approach, some faculty organize a “JP lab,” with many students working together in a discussion group that meets regularly. At the end of the process, you must submit a paper formulating a question and synthesizing the literature.
In a third common approach, you will become a part of a research team, working with your faculty advisor as well as the graduate students and other researchers in the lab group. At the end of the fall semester, you will be required to submit a paper describing your work to date. The paper should explain the questions being investigated empirically and place them in the context of the larger literature background. You may also include any results you have by that time. The exact format of the paper will depend on your discussions with your advisor.
The fall JP should be 10 to 20 pages (about 2500 – 5000 words). Longer is not better. You should be able to cover your topic concisely. The paper should contain a title page; an abstract (a short, 100 – 300 word summary); the main text, divided up into sections with headings; and references. The references should be to appropriate sources, primarily published papers in scientific journals. The number of references depends on your topic, but are often between about 10 and 30. The paper should be double-spaced and must be submitted in a journal format that is pre-approved by your advisor. The default format for Psychology independent work is to follow the instructions of the American Psychological Association. The APA Style Manual (reference book format) is available in the Lewis Science Library. Frequently asked questions and general style guidelines can also be found online at APA.org.
Meghan Testerman, the Psychology librarian at the Lewis Library, is also available to help you with library research.
Spring Semester Junior Paper
The primary goal of the spring JP in Psychology is to prepare students for a thesis by having them formulate an original idea and embody it in a paper. It should be written for a broad, academic audience.
The format for the spring JP is flexible and depends on discussions between you and your advisor. Different advisors prefer different approaches, and you can discuss the options with your advisor. Make sure you clarify with your advisor exactly what is expected of you.
In one common approach, a spring JP can be a theoretical piece that proposes a thesis idea and uses creative exploration of the literature to evaluate the idea. This type of JP would look like a mini-thesis, or like a first pass at a thesis.
In a second common approach, a spring JP can be a research proposal. In some cases, the research proposal lays the groundwork for the senior thesis, but this is not required. The goal of writing a research proposal is to learn how to read the literature, identify an interesting scientific question, and design an experiment that might address that question. A research proposal typically includes a comprehensive review of the relevant research literature, a statement of your specific scientific question, a detailed description of the methods you will use to collect data, a description of the statistical analyses you will use, and a discussion of the possible outcomes and their interpretations. It may be useful to include figures diagramming the possible quantitative outcomes.
In a third common approach, a spring JP might be a write-up of experimental work done during the junior year, complete with separate sections for introduction, methods, results, and discussion, again like a mini-thesis. Some students may be midway through an experiment, without complete results, by the end of the spring semester. In that case, the student may write something more like a research proposal, including an introduction placing the experiment in the context of the larger literature, a description of the methods, and a discussion of the possible outcomes.
The spring JP should be 20 to 40 pages (about 5000 to 10,000 words). Longer is not better. You should be able to cover your topic concisely. The paper should contain a title page; an abstract (a short, 100 – 300 word summary); the main text, divided into sections with headings; and references. The references should be to appropriate scholarly sources, primarily published papers in scientific journals. The number of references depends on your topic, but are often between about 10 and 50. The paper should be double-spaced and must be submitted in a journal format that is pre-approved by your advisor. The default format for Psychology independent work is to follow the instructions of the American Psychological Association. The APA Style Manual (reference book format) is available in the Lewis Science Library. Frequently asked questions and general style guidelines can also be found online at APA.org.
Meghan Testerman, the Psychology librarian at the Lewis Library, is also available to help you with library research.
The fall semester paper will be graded based on a combination of a midpoint presentation grade (counting for 10%), evaluated by an assigned faculty member who is present at the presentation, and a final paper grade (counting for 90%), evaluated by the student’s adviser.
The spring semester paper will be based on a combination of a midpoint presentation grade (counting for 10%), evaluated by an assigned faculty member who is present at the presentation, and a final paper grade (counting for 90%). The paper will be evaluated by the student’s adviser and by a second reader assigned by the department. The adviser and second reader grades for the spring semester paper will be averaged together. When you submit your spring JP, you will also be asked to submit a list of your top 3 choices of faculty to serve as a second reader on your JP.
The grades for the Fall and Spring papers will then be combined. The fall paper will count for 40% of the final junior independent work grade, and the spring semester paper will count for 60% of the final junior independent work grade.
Students will receive a single grade on their transcripts in the spring semester for fall and spring junior independent work.
Extensions are rarely granted for the junior independent work. The criteria include either the student's illness, for which a written medical excuse must be provided, or a family emergency. Extensions must be approved by the Departmental Representative and the student’s adviser. For help regarding extensions, students may also ask their residential Dean or the Department of Psychology Undergraduate Administrator (firstname.lastname@example.org). Extensions past Dean’s date must always be approved by the Dean’s office.
If an extension is not granted, a penalty will start to accrue on the student's grade beginning with the day following the deadline. Grade penalties for unauthorized late junior papers follow a schedule wherein 1/3 of a letter grade is automatically deducted for every 48 hours (or part thereof) that the paper is late, weekend days included. A junior paper which is not received within two weeks of the deadline date will be given a grade of F. After the University deadline, no written work can be accepted for a passing grade without approval from the Dean of the student’s residential college.
If any of the components of the junior paper are not submitted, the student will fail the junior independent work for the year.
Junior Independent Work FAQ
Q: What should I expect from working with a faculty advisor?
A: The independent work is, in the first place, your chance to perform independently outside of the classroom. It is ultimately your responsibility to keep to an effective schedule, to keep in touch with your advisor, and to make sure that you bring work-in-progress to your advisor at regular intervals and early enough to receive timely feedback. Different faculty have different advising styles. Some require a weekly meeting in which all their advisees participate in a group, whereas others will leave the pacing of the work and the amount of student-advisor contact entirely up to you. In the end, it is your independent work.
Q: Is funding available for junior independent work?
A: Limited funding is available, especially for the summer between junior and senior year if students have begun to work on the senior thesis. See Funding Opportunities for Independent Work.
Q: Can I fulfill the independent work while spending a semester abroad?
A: Yes, many students do so. They work with their advisor over email or Skype.
Q: Can I use material from my JP in my senior thesis?
A: Yes. The senior thesis is often an outgrowth of the spring JP, and it is sometimes difficult to avoid overlap. For example, the JP may form the basis for the Introduction section of the thesis. You should not copy the text exactly; you should in some way re-think, re-write, or improve the material, before incorporating it into the new assignment. However, if there is any overlap between independent work projects, you are required to get the permission of your advisor, and also required to add a separate page at the beginning of your paper, containing a short statement summarizing the extent of overlap.
For specifics regarding independent work due dates and deadlines, see the Important Dates page.